The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

About three quarters of the way to the South Foreland Lighthouse from Langdon Cliffs, along the chalky path by the awesome White Cliffs of Dover, several things happened at once. the boy announced that he was tired of walking. His push-chair, which I was pulling behind me as I set a brisk pace to the lighthouse, got stuck in mud. The wind picked up and the sun hid behind an ominous nimbus. It suddenly became very cold. Dover Castle loomed menacingly. A family emerged from behind some shrubbery. And my mobile phone chirped.

Faced with the onslaught of sensory stimuli, I did what any true-blooded male would do. I looked at the mobile phone. There was a text message for me.

"Welcome to France! Calls cost 38p/min to make, and 19p/min to receive," it read happily.

France was 21 miles across the Dover Straits but its baleful influence was already upon me.

"Baguette," I intoned, walking towards that great country, arms stretched out. "Pamplemousse. Jus d'orange."

The wife slapped my face and shook me vigorously. The boy stared at me as though he was deeply disappointed.

"Brrr," I said, coming to. "What happened?"

"It's the French. They got to you."

Suddenly, it was sunny again. In the distance, we could see the summit of the fine Victorian lighthouse we were hiking towards. The family smiled at us and began their long march back to the White Cliffs Visitors' Centre. The boy pointed out once again that he was tired. The push-chair made a squelching noise when I yanked at it. It was well stuck.

A chalk path leads ramblers from Langdon Cliffs all the way to St Margaret's Cliffe, a distance of some three miles. South Foreland is only one of the dramatic views from the path. The cliffs cutting into the sea are - as one might expect from their name - white, but they are also green, brilliantly verdant in the summer. We stood there under a sky of burnished steel, the sea on one side, endless fields of wheat on the other.

The boy had been rather enthusiastic till then. He had cooed at passing dogs. He had walked happily on chalk and grass, scrambled over gates and through barriers, admired sea gulls and appreciated ferries. He had learnt the meaning of uphill and downhill. He had been the first among us to see the lighthouse in the distance. But there comes a moment in a man's life when he has to say, "Enough is enough. This far, and no further." And the boy said it.

This was not a very opportune moment for me, though. I was keen to push on towards South Foreland. The lighthouse is a marvel of Victorian engineering. It once hosted the likes of Michael Faraday and Guglielmo Marconi. It is currently a National Trust property, which added to its charms - we are members of the Trust, and we like to grab any goodies that the Trust might throw our way, such as free entry to a historic property. The boy's exhaustion prompted an interesting optimisation exercise in my head.

[photo by AntonioA]

I could carry him on my shoulders for another couple of furlongs to the lighthouse, explore the tower a bit, and then bear him all the way back to Langdon Cliffs. But the path to South Foreland, we could see, would be rising a bit and getting muddier. Not easily negotiated with a tyke on my back. Or I could abandon the assault on the lighthouse and retreat. The weather looked ready to turn. Either way, I'd do my back in. What was a man to do?

We turned around and squelched through the mud. The boy surveyed the world from atop my shoulders and pronounced it all good. I did my back in.


??! said...

I did my back in
Well, it's a good thing you weren't walking on Chisel Beach, isn't it? Imagine what that would have done to your back.

Fëanor said...

True, true...

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